The Northwest Side neighborhood of Albany Park has been the first American home for thousands of immigrants — from Russia, Malaysia, Guatemala, and more. To portray these varied experiences, the Albany Park Theater Project created a remarkably realistic three-story courtyard apartment building inside a former warehouse on West Montrose Avenue. The building serves as a set for the multilayered immersive play Port of Entry, produced in collaboration with New York–based Third Rail Projects. 

Performances are limited to just 28 audience members, who are divided into even smaller groups guided along divergent tracks on a three-dimensional theatrical journey, as APTP’s teen performers portray the generations of newcomers who have lived in the fictional building over the course of more than 100 years. The production sometimes invites audience members to interact with the players: You may drink coffee and look at photos with a Polish woman reminiscing about her now-grown children, snack on sweet turon while a multigenerational Filipino household makes supper, or play lotería with pinto beans and quarters while waiting for a call from a father deported to Mexico. The ensemble of high school and middle school students interviewed neighborhood residents to come up with the story lines, some of which come from their own immigrant families.

You come out feeling changed — with more empathy and love for the people that make up our kaleidoscopic city. APTP previously worked with Third Rail on 2016’s Learning Curve, which turned a decommissioned Avondale grade school into a fictional Chicago public high school. But Port of Entry is the most ambitious project in the company’s history, says co–executive director David Feiner. After a brief (and sold-out) summer run, it’s returning October 6 to December 16, with 2024 dates to follow.